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OHSU cop being investigated over O'Dea shooting

Portland Chief Larry O'Dea is not the only police officer being investigated over a potential cover-up of what's been termed an accidental shooting during a camping trip.

Steve Buchtel, a retired Portland police firearms instructor who was on the trip with O'Dea, now works as a sergeant in the Oregon Health & Science University police department. Officers at OHSU have been carrying guns since 2014. OREGON HEALTH & SCIENCE UNIVERSITY - Badge of the OHSU public safety division.

With the Oregon State Police and the Justice Department now investigating the April 21 incident, the results of their investigation will be used to launch an internal investigation of Buchtel as well, according to an OHSU spokeswoman.

"The department has reached out to both the Oregon State Police and the Department of Justice to cooperate in the criminal investigation of the incident and are deferring the internal investigation until the Oregon State Police investigation is complete," says Tamara Hargens-Bradley. "The OHSU Department of Public Safety will investigate Sgt. Buchtel’s involvement in the incident for any violations of law, OHSU policy or code of conduct, or department policy."

The big question: Was it only O'Dea who knew he fired the bullet that wounded Robert Dempsey, or did others —such as Buchtel — withhold relevant information from the investigator?

Buchtel could not be reached for comment. As a result of the state investigation, he is prohibited from discussing the incident, according to OHSU.

Of the men who participated in the camping trip, Buchtel is the only other active-duty police officer besides O'Dea. TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Chief Larry O'Dea at his swearing-in

It's unclear whether he is in the same position as the Portland chief, whose statement to an investigating officer about the incident conflicted with what the victim said O'Dea disclosed later — that the Portland chief shot him.

OHSU will not place Buchtel on leave as O'Dea has been, said Hargens-Bradley.

Jammed gun

It started with a bunch of friends, many of whom had been drinking, sitting in a line of lawn chairs and shooting at sage rats.

As first reported by The Oregonian, a report of the incident by a Harney County sheriff's deputy shows that O'Dea told police that he had put his gun down to get a drink. Then he heard Dempsey groan, and looked over to see Dempsey with an empty shoulder holster, holding his left side, O'Dea said.

"O'Dea said it appeared to him that maybe Bob was trying to holster a pistol and accidentally shot himself," according to the report.

However, Dempsey told the investigator that O'Dea later called him to apologize after Dempsey was rushed for medical treatment. Dempsey said that O'Dea had gotten a drink, then returned and "picked his gun back up and Mr. O'Dea accidentally shot him," according to the report. "O'Dea had been having trouble with his gun … jamming, misfiring and not feeding."

Buchtel called 911 when they got within cell service, driving O'Dea to get medical attention. The Harney County deputy met the men at about 6 p.m., and interviewed Buchtel before O'Dea.

It's unclear from the investigator's account whether Buchtel, when interviewed, knew or had an inkling that O'Dea was the one who shot Dempsey.

No one claimed to see shooting

All present denied seeing the shooting, some saying they were getting a sandwich or a drink at the time, according to the report. Even Dempsey denied knowing how he had been shot in the back.

After his initial round of interviews, the investigator thought the wound was possibly self-inflicted, or else he would have seized guns of the people there, according to his report.

Buchtel, like O'Dea, addressed the possibility of Dempsey shooting himself and wearing a shoulder holster, according to the report. But Buchtel then appeared to raise doubt that was true.

Buchtel said he was sitting away from the others, using a pickup truck as a "wind deflector." After hearing Dempsey yell, "Buchtel said it looked like Bob had tried to holster a pistol in a shoulder holster and had an accidental discharge. Mr. Buchtel said Bob did not have a shoulder holster so the round had to have come from somewhere else," according to the report.

Buchtel worked at the Portland Police Bureau from 1981 to 2006, according to the state Department of Public Safety Standards and Training. He has worked at OHSU since March 2007. The university's public safety unit became a full-blown police department in 2012.

Buchtel and O'Dea know well that an accidental shooting can lead to criminal charges. Both were involved in the internal investigation of then-Portland Officer Dane Reister after he accidentally fired normal shotgun shells instead of beanbag rounds from a less-lethal shotgun, wounding a man in 2011.

Reister never had been certified to use the weapon. Reister and other officers interviewed about the incident, including a police captain, said Buchtel had in 2002 told them that they wouldn't need special training to operate less-lethal shotguns if they went through training to be on the crowd control unit, according to records from the investigation. Buchtel, however, denied saying it.

O'Dea was an assistant police chief at the time, and concurred with the internal finding that Reister had violated bureau policies. County prosecutors, meanwhile, charged Reister with negligent wounding and assault.

Reister committed suicide a year ago, as his case was pending before the Oregon Court of Appeals.